Concern is building in the UK about how post-Brexit import charges on goods from the EU will impact local food prices.

The Common User Charge (CUC) will be brought into play at the end of this month for goods arriving through the port of Dover and at Folkestone via the Eurotunnel rail system.

It will be added to an array of animal, plants and plant products intended for commercial use that are entering or transiting through Great Britain.

The charges will differ depending on the ‘risk’ level of the product and will be capped at £145 ($183.5), according to the latest government update.

Frozen and fresh meat products like mince meat, poultry, rabbit and game, which are to be labelled ‘medium-risk’, will face a £29 charge for imports and a £10 transit charge.

Plants and plant-products facing import levies include fruits, vegetables and herbs such as strawberries, pears, celery, papaya, quince, basil, avocado, stone fruits like cherries, corn and grapevines.

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Processed dairy such as pasteurised cheeses, shelf-stable meat goods like salami or canned meats, as well as unfrozen shelf-stable egg products and wild-caught fish, will sit in the ‘low-risk’ segment, facing charges of £10 for both imports and transits.

These rates will be reviewed and updated by Defra – the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – on an annual basis.  

The CUC will not apply to “low-risk plants and plant products” being imported into the UK or transiting through.

Those products, which include some vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and legumes, will also be exempt if they have been checked at an inland control centre instead of a government Border Control Post (BCP).

However, even if traders have pre-notified Defra via the IPAFFS system, such products could still face charges.

Also coming into force at the end of April are new “documentary and risk-based identity and physical checks” at the border. These will apply to medium-risk animal origin goods coming from the EU and European Free Trade Association regions, and plant products from the EU, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

These trading updates are part of the UK’s post-Brexit Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) which came into play at the start of this year.

Since 31 January, traders importing goods under the high-risk and medium-risk category have to submit a mandatory pre-notification to Defra 24 hours ahead of arriving in the UK, and also provide an Export Health Certificate.

Several agri-food representatives have raised concerns over the upcoming CUC.  

James Barnes, chairman of the Horticultural Trades Association, said in a statement the policy “feels like it is constructed on the back of an envelope at best”, lacking “a full year of robust data set to determine true cost-recovery calculation”.

He added: “The CUC, whilst critical, is just one part of the jigsaw of the April border changes, a puzzle that is far from solved.

“BCPs do not have the capability to handle many of our loads, let alone the volumes, and we have no details on the so-called pragmatic approach. The pragmatic approach lacks any public detail or communication to give confidence or certainty that the lack of capacity or capability of BCPs to handle plants will not cause irreparable damage to an industry hit by extraordinary cost hikes this spring.

“This CUC announcement and border changes come at the worst time. The charges will undoubtedly increase costs, potentially reduce consumer choice, and increase the likelihood of empty shelves, thereby impacting biodiversity and meeting our nation’s environmental targets.”

Cold Chain Federation chief executive Phil Pluck also expressed his concern on the potential impact of the new import regulations on food prices.

“The confirmation that Common User Charges will apply from the 30th of April means that UK importers of medium- and high-risk goods will have to pass this cost onto either the EU importer, the smaller UK retailer, or the UK consumer,” he said.

He added: “EU exporters are also shouldering the additional cost of Health Certificates, which may discourage many from exporting food and plant products to the UK in future.

“Ultimately, this will increase business costs and food prices and potentially lower choices for the shopper.”

Managing director at Scottish dairy group Graham’s Family Dairy, Robert Graham, also warned the changes “will cost UK food and drink firms hundreds of thousands of pounds”, and will force the business itself to “have different packaging between UK and export lines, leading to higher costs across stock, production, branding and operations”.

Graham added: “It feels like the UK government is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut…The food industry understands the complexities of politics but we can’t help but feel this legislation will do nothing for the industry but confuse consumers, increase complexity and heighten costs by millions for the sector.”